What are the most interesting island phenomena
Contributions to the biochemistry of strange living things (12)
by Siegfried Bär, drawing: Frieder Wiech (Laborjournal Edition 07, 2006)
The documentary "King Kong" leaves many questions unanswered. Siegfried Bär solves some of them.
Animal films are very popular. This is particularly true of the documentary "King Kong". Millions have seen the spectacular shots of the giant monkey, but the film leaves many questions unanswered: How did you get the giant monkey onto the ship? How did they keep him quiet there? Did King Kong get seasick? Where is its skeleton, its fur? What was the name of Ann Darrow's first son? Kong? King? Or Emmerich?
Documentary filmmaker Peter Jackson didn't go into the biology and biochemistry of monkeys at all. The countless commentators on the film limited themselves to cultural chatter, to comparing "Beauty and the Beast", to psychologizing, to invoking the tragedy of the impossible. We didn't get any smarter than that. What are the real facts of the monster, what are the biological bases of its existence?
We learn that King Kong was eight meters tall and weighed four tons. You can also see him eating bamboo. So it was herbivorous like today's great apes. Neuropsychologically, he appears to have suffered from sexual disorders. This can be inferred from the fact that he used to tear up sacrificed virgins. Furthermore, King Kong lives alone, a Queen Kong does not appear anywhere. Here the question arises: Is King Kong the last representative of an extinct species or is he a singular phenomenon that owes its existence to the pathological overproduction of growth hormone?
Check out the climbing tour of Jack Driscoll, Ann Darrow's lover, to Kong's afterglow viewing seat. Halfway past the bat cave, Driscoll passes a skeleton that is clearly from a monkey the size of King Kong. Due to a lack of anatomical knowledge, I cannot say whether it is a female or a male, but the existence of such a skeleton alone suggests that Kong is the last representative of a species and not a sick mountain gorilla.
King Kong isn't the first giant monkey to be discovered. The German researcher Gustav von Königswald came across a tooth of the Gigantopithecus blackii in China in 1935. The molar crown had a diameter of 25 mm and it was concluded from lower jaw fragments found later that these monkeys were 3.5 meters tall and weighed 250-500 kilograms. Gigantopithecus was related to the orangutan. Like Kong, he is said to have fed on bamboo shoots. It became extinct 100,000 years ago. The latter is doubted by some cryptozoologists. They think it is possible that the Gigantopithecus is still a shy creature as a yeti in the inaccessible mountain forests of China and Tibet. Famous researchers like Reinhold Messner want to have seen him there.
The island phenomenon
Now King Kong is even more gigantic than Gigantopithecus. This is all the stranger since King Kong lives on an island and herbivores living on islands have become smaller over the generations than their counterparts on the mainland. This is called island dwarfing. Examples are the hippos in Madagascar and the pygmy elephants that populated Malta and Sardinia 10,000 years ago. The reason for the island dwarfing is said to be the scarce food resources on islands.
Many believe that the Flores people (Homo floresiensis) also owe their phenotype to island dwelling. You would then be an example of dwarfism in primates, whereby the Flores humans were not pure herbivores. According to their tool arsenal, they hunted pygmy elephants. The Californian gray fox, which does not grow larger than a cat on islands, is not a herbivore either.
But there is not only the phenomenon of island dwarfing, but also that of island giant growth ("island gigantism"). Rodents and monitor lizards living on islands tend to grow larger than their counterparts on the mainland - think of the Komodo dragon. The evolutionary driving force is that the giant species can hunt the dwarf forms: the rat eats the elephant. There is also an example of gigantism for primates: the Greek traveler Odysseus discovered a race of one-eyed giants on an island. Although the archaeological evidence for the existence of these giants is scanty, Odysseus is a much-quoted author and is therefore right. The giants of Odysseus were clearly carnivores, even ogre-eaters.
Theories on weak feet
So we are faced with the confusing fact that carnivorous primates tend to be dwarfed and gigantic. Herbivorous primates, on the other hand, can reach gigantic proportions on islands. What do we conclude from this?
That the theories about island dwarfing or verriesung stand on weak feet. A selection based on the food supply cannot be the primary cause of these processes. Sexual selection processes are more likely. Hana Riha, an expert on strange creatures from the "Institute for Molecular Excellence" at the University of Rottweil, imagines the development of island giantism as follows: the females mate with the largest males. On the mainland, the smaller ones can evade and also start their own families. Therefore, there is no increase in size on the mainland. Evasion is not possible on an island, so the smaller ones cannot mate and the offspring keep getting bigger. One reason for preferring larger males might be that size comes with better protection from predators. It is fitting that King Kong often has to fight off predatory dinosaurs and blood-sucking bats. Predator pressure on Skull Island appears to have been high.
If, on the other hand, the females prefer to mate with small males, island dwarfing occurs. One reason for the preference for small males could be female emancipation efforts or perhaps just the fact that small males eat less than large ones and can therefore give off more.
With King Kong the verriesung has reached its peak. He could compete with three predatory dinosaurs while still balancing Ann Darrow, but he used up so many bamboo shoots that the island only carried one of its kind. He was the greatest, but also the only one - and his kind of loser. Mating with Ann Darrow would have led to smaller hybrids and thus to the continued existence of the species, but this was opposed by both genetic - great apes, for example, have 48 chromosome pairs, i.e. two more than us - and geometric obstacles. For years King Kong learned from the native virgins how fruitless such efforts were.
Even modern science has failed with experiments of this kind. So I found the following reference in Margarete Buber-Neumann's biography "From Potsdam to Berlin":
Fruitless attempts at fertilization
But O.J. Tell Schmidt from his time in Suchum. In fact, attempts were made there to fertilize human semen on female monkeys and vice versa. For this purpose a Soviet scientific journal had asked that women should [...] make themselves available. Obviously many had misunderstood this call and failed to understand that the attempts were supposed to be artificial insemination. The Suchum monkey station would be showered with letters in which the female senders agreed to be mated by male monkeys in the service of Soviet science. The letter writers were told about the little misunderstanding. O.J. Schmidt also told us that all attempts to create a cross between monkeys and humans through artificial insemination failed.
Schmidt was Otto Julewitsch Schmidt, who was in charge of the monkey enclosure in the Abkhazian city of Sukhum in the 1920s. Schmidt later became a polar explorer. It is noticeable that his experiments coincided with the first rumors about King Kong.
However, Schmidt could not have helped either, and so there was little more for Kong than to watch the sunset and philosophize about the transience of all being. One can understand that the giant monkey was prone to outbursts of anger. Ann Darrow's behavior is less understandable. The famous screenwriter Jack Driscoll is lying at her feet, she loves him - so that he won't cheat on you with a monkey. Only in spirit, but still.
This seems to be a general female behavior: Hana Riha told me during a discussion of the problem that she also fell for the biggest monkeys when she was young. She would have found quiet, solid youths boring. It should have been someone with huh and hah, someone who drums his chest, who jumps in a square and drives a motorcycle.
Then I notice: Ms. Riha is blonde and has a figure like Ann Darrow. Haven't I wanted to buy a motorcycle for a long time? Huh, best of all right away. Bye!
Last changes: 08/16/2006
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